FREMANTLE council has been slammed by staff and ratepayers after standing down dozens of staff and telling them to use up their holiday leave until it runs out.
Last Wednesday afternoon staff and councillors received an email from CEO Philip
St John announcing the council’s latest belt-tightening measures to deal with plummeting revenue caused by the Covid-19 restrictions.
Mr St John called them to meetings on Thursday morning where 60 staff were told there was no work and they’d have to use up their leave entitlements, or take leave without pay. After that they’d be stood down until at least June 30 when the arrangements would be reviewed.
Several the Herald spoke to said they were then told by managers to apply for the dole when their leave entitlements ran out.
“A lot of us only have about two weeks of leave,” a worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Herald.
She was furious when the council issued a press release on Thursday trumpeting a “voluntary” 20 per cent pay cut for senior staff and elected members but failing to mention enforced stand-downs.
“It seems that those who have more capacity to absorb the impact of these cuts are affected the least,” she said.
The worker was also angry that while she and her colleagues faced major cuts in their hours, supervisors would be taking on some of their tasks.
“If front role jobs are not essential, why are managers asking for our operating procedures.”
She said affected staff were working with their union to put together a dispute case.
When the council posted the release to its Facebook page, it was hammered by critics, with several staff telling the Herald they’d asked friends and family to post on their behalf because they were concerned about the further ramifications of speaking out.
“Are you for real!” posted Dave McCann.
“Forcing staff to take leave without pay and you’re singing your own praises because senior staff took a 20 per cent pay cut! You haven’t even the decency to be honest about it in the post.”
Another worker said she’d offered to take leave without pay because she had a pre-booked holiday and would need the money then, but was refused.
“I just don’t think there’s any compassion in the least,” she told the Herald.
“There was no consultation; I’m so angry.
“This weekend has been terrible, and as the days go on we are getting more and more pissed off.
“Talk about loyalty going out the window.
“If they had consulted the staff they might have been surprised at those who would have said they could take leave or work reduced hours.”
Cockburn and Melville have said they won’t be standing down staff, but councillor Sam Wainwright told the Herald it would be unfair to compare their situation with Fremantle’s, as they were funded predominantly by residential rates, whereas the port city took most of its income from parking and commercial rents, which had dried up.
Cr Wainwright said he’d received numerous calls from affected staff and ratepayers angry at the situation.
“I have heard some of the stories of distress and it’s very painful.
“But as elected members we have to focus our fire on getting the state and federal governments to take this seriously.”
Earlier this month prime minister Scott Morrison said the federal government wouldn’t help out councils and made them ineligible for JobKeeper payments.
WA local government minister David Templeman also called on councils to keep their workforce, telling them to “step up” and bring forward capital works projects.
But Cr Wainwright said that was not helpful.
“Thanks for the homilies, but how are you supposed to bring on capital works and keep paying staff when your revenue has dried up,” he said.
Mr St John released a statement to the Herald on Thursday saying the city expected to lose $6.2 million in revenue by June 30 and had made decisions that balanced its obligations to its staff with maintaining essential services.
by STEVE GRANT
Staffing decisions based on balance of service and support
This is the statement released by Fremantle council CEO Philip St John on Thursday about the city’s controversial decision to stand down dozens of staff.
THE City of Fremantle is a local government with a city centre.
This creates both opportunities and challenges.
On one hand this means that the City has responsibilities and provides services that many other councils do not have to; on the other this does provide us with revenue sources which more suburban-oriented councils do not have.
The unfortunate reality is that, as evidenced by Covid-19, these revenue sources are vulnerable and cannot be relied upon.
Approximately 35 per cent of our operating revenue is derived from non-rate or grant sources.
As a consequence of the Covid-19 situation, we estimate we will lose about $6.2 million of revenue between now and the end of the financial year, made up of car parking, rent from commercial properties and fees and charges.
The City’s management has considered many options to deal with this situation. In doing so, we have sought to develop a balanced response that takes into account not only our obligations to our staff but also our need to maintain essential services such as waste management and community safety.
To this end, we have reviewed service levels and made changes where possible to reduce operating costs and postpone non-essential works.
We have also ensured we continue to follow through on capital project commitments made to our community through the annual budget process.
Projects such as the Ord Street resurfacing, South Terrace resurfacing and repairing the Harvey Beach jetty are examples of work that will continue.
With these changes, the City will have financial capacity to deal with this situation. We have reserves and some borrowing capacity.
However, we also want to ensure we balance our current situation with the possibility that this could last a long time.
We do not know how long the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent economic and social impacts, will last. We must be prepared for any eventuality.
We strongly believe that it would not be fiscally prudent to put further pressure on our financial situation at this stage.
We need to make sure we place the City in the best possible position to not only support our community and businesses right now, but also as we recover from this situation, whenever that may be.
So it must be a balance between the many competing demands on our resources.
Decisions regarding our staff have been by far the most difficult we have had to take.
We have some 380 people working at the City.
We are still in conversation with some staff so they are not all included in the following overview, however this is where we stand currently:
Approximately 65 staff are engaged in essential frontline services such as customer service, waste collection and community safety: these services will continue with no change to hours of work or pay.
A total of 23 senior staff – managers, directors and the CEO – are continuing to work full time but have accepted a voluntary pay reduction of 20 per cent.
We have negotiated with approximately 170 staff for them to accept a 20 per cent reduction in working hours, meaning they hourly rate, but will be working the equivalent of a four-day week instead of a five-day week.
There are about 60 staff for whom there is not the required level of necessary work because of government directives mandating the closure of facilities such as the library, leisure centre and arts centre.
As a result, some of these staff have been directed to take annual leave, and in some cases leave without pay if they have insufficient leave balances.
Management is fully aware that this decision has a particular impact on this group of people, and understands that they feel high levels of anxiety right now. We are continuing to look on a case-by-case basis at how these staff might be supported through this situation.
While we recognise this is a very difficult and challenging time for affected staff, two points need to be stressed with absolute clarity:
The first is these arrangements are not permanent. The City will welcome the end of this situation and will bring staff back as soon as we possibly can. No staff member’s employment will be permanently changed as a result of this.
The other point is at all times the City has acted in accordance with its legal requirements, the relevant Enterprise Bargaining Agreements, in consultation with affected staff. We have also had discussions with relevant trade unions.
Nobody wants to be in this position, and we have tried to share the burden of this financial hit in the most balanced and sustainable way possible.
The City’s role in providing services to our community is at the forefront of our decision-making.
We want to place the City in the best position we can to get through this crisis and rebound from it.
The decisions we’ve made have been very difficult, but the goal throughout has been to balance the City’s obligations to our people with our responsibilities to our ratepayers and our community.